Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict theory


Main Difference

The main difference between Functionalism and Conflict Theory is that Functionalism considers society as a system consisting of different sub-sections having their specific functions, whereas Conflict Theory considers the society due to social conflicts arising among different social classes due to inequality.

Functionalism vs. Conflict theory

In functionalism, society is taken as an entity consisting of different subdivisions, and each of the subdivision has its specific function. On the other hand, according to conflict theory, society is comprehended through the social conflicts emerging due to injustice.

Functionalism views society as a system containing different parts, whereas conflict theory views society as a struggle between different classes due to discrimination and unfairness. Functionalism focuses on the importance of cooperation. On the flip side, conflict theory concentrates on the significance of competition.


Functionalism is defined as a theory that describes all the aspects of a society that perform their functions and are essential for the survival and existence of society. Conversely, a theory that describes a perpetual conflict among various classes in society due to the unequal distribution of resources is called conflict theory.

The pioneer or founder of the theory of functionalism is Emile Durkheim, whereas the pioneer or founder of conflict theory is Karl Marx. Functionalism sees society as interdependent, depending on every aspect of society to run smoothly. On the contrary, conflict theory does not believe in the innate goodness of society; instead, it considers the society as different groups who compete with one another for the resources.


Functionalism describes the social and economic factors as positive aspects of a functioning society. On the flip side, conflict theory designates the social and economic features as the motives for misconduct and aberration.

Comparison Chart

FunctionalismConflict Theory
Survival of the society bound to the proper functioning of every aspect of the society is called functionalism.Perpetual class conflict in the society due to limited and unequal distribution of resources is called conflict theory.
Relationship between various parts of a societyCompetition for the resources and inequality among different classes
Response to Social Changes
Neglects social changesDoes not neglect social changes
Focus on how social parts contribute to a societyFocus on how social parts conflict in a society
Society benefits everyoneSociety contradicts everyone
Defends existing social sequenceExaggerates tension and diversion in society
Does not highlight the parts of societyHighlights the parts of society
Does not miss the census and balanceMiss the census and balance
Argued As
A good thingA bad thing
Suggested By
Emil DurkheimKarl Marx

What is Functionalism?

Functionalism, which is also characterized as structural-functional theory, labels the society as a structure with numerous interconnected segments indicated to fulfill the organic and social needs of the individuals residing in that society. Emile Durkheim suggested this theory to explain the changes in society over time and its survival.

Functionalism highlights various parts of the society, including administration, instruction, government, law, family, healthcare, religion, conviction, and the budget, etc. that refer to the social organizations and are defined as arrangements or performances focused on achieving the social needs. The society can work efficiently if all the interrelated parts play their role in maintaining stability.

Functionalism interprets that society is maintained by shared standards, languages, and symbols. It describes that social facts like laws, ethics, values, sacred beliefs, civilizations, fashion, and rites collectively serve in governing social life.

Functionalism believes that everything that happens in society happens for good and serves to help in keeping society functioning. For example, homelessness helps to motivate the person to keep working hard, or committing a crime is a motivation to avoid the situations because getting caught will result in jail. Functionalism helps in maintaining our social principles and anticipations.

Functionalism analyses the norms, customs, traditions, and institutions of society as a whole. It states that all the aspects of society are dependents, which serve a function in stabilizing society. Functionalism highlights inter-dependency among the variable fundamentals that eventually lead to the maintenance of society.

What is Conflict Theory?

Conflict theory describes the society not as a whole but in the form of parts produced as a result of the unequal distribution of resources. The conflict in society due to inequality and injustice faced by communities inside the unbalanced class system of the society refers to the importance of conflict theory.

According to this theory, continuous tension is realized between the topmost class bourgeoisie and the working or lowest level class proletariat. The main focus of conflict theory is class conflict. It explains the class order in a society maintained by domination and power without consensus and conformity due to the limitation of resources.

Conflict theory explains the working of society in parts as it disguises the mean nature of the wealthy to hold on their power by every means, mainly by suppressing the poor and powerless. It illustrates the pressures and uncertainties arising due to unequal distribution of assets like status and power among different assemblies in society, and these class discrepancies generate a social change in society.

Conflict theory also describes the social issues, including social insurrections, social discernment, domestic violence, and gender disputes. Conflict theory does not believe in the distinctive goodness of society. It views society as groups competing with one another.

Conflict theory uses a macro approach to highlight the competition among various classes in a society. It refers to the social order preserved by domination. Conflict theory possesses a more realistic approach as it provides the elite with more control and opportunities.

Key Differences

  1. Functionalism has a cooperative approach that focuses on the contribution of social parts is a society, which acts as a system. On the other hand, conflict theory has a competitive approach that focuses on conflicts in society.
  2. Functionalism ignores the social changes, whereas conflict theory does not ignore the social changes triggered by class discrimination and unequal distribution of resources.
  3. Functionalism was discovered by Emil Durkheim. On the flip side, conflict theory was discovered by Karl Marx.
  4. Functionalism assumes that everyone is satisfied by working in society, whereas conflict theory believes that everyone is not satisfied with society’s performance.
  5. Functionalism protects existing social orders and sequences. Conversely, conflict theory highlights the tension and diversion occurring in society.
  6. Functionalism considers society as a whole, whereas conflict theory considers society as parts.
  7. Functionalism is debated as a good thing. On the contrary, conflict theory is debated as a bad thing.
  8. Functionalism does not omit the census and equilibrium, whereas conflict theory interprets the negligence of census and equilibrium of the society.
  9. Functionalism focuses on the relationship between different interrelated parts of society. On the flip side, conflict theory pays its concentration on the competition for resources and inequality among classes.
  10. Functionalism views education as a positive aspect, whereas conflict theory views education in a negative perspective.


Functionalism states that each aspect of society performs its function and is vital for society’s survival. In contrast, conflict theory states that society is divided into parts due to perpetual class conflict and unequal distribution of resources.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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